A lot of people have this conception that cats are a nuisance, basically using you for food before they feck off again. To be honest, I find that cats are very misjudged.
Working as a veterinary nurse can take its toll. It’s very hard to switch off. Starting off in my local vet in Newbridge, Co Kildare, I spent almost 20 years in that career, but now I’ve started something different and it doesn’t feel like work.
They say there’s a lot of depression and a high suicide rate in the veterinary industry. There’s a lot of dealing with death. Euthanasia was a hard part of that life, which was one of the reasons I left for my job now. If you’re treating animals over the years, you do get attached to them as well and obviously it’s quite an emotional side to the job.
I’m 35, and in August 2018 I started Emmadale Cattery and Small Pet Boarding at my home in Co Kildare. I look after cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters while their families go on holidays, sometimes for a weekend, sometimes for a month.
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My dad was a sheep farmer, so I suppose I’ve always been around animals and developed a love for them very early on in life. I always had a thing in my head as a kid that if I ever had my own place, I was going to call it Emmadale after one of my favourite television soaps, Emmerdale.
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Back in the vets, I found cats were often second in line to dogs for overnight boarding – and few would take in rabbits. We used to take a lot of cats in boarding as other places wouldn’t take them, particularly if they were on medication. I used to feel bad because perfectly healthy cats were coming into a sick animal environment for their holidays because nobody else would look after them.
I always had that softer side for the cats and loved that hands-on care rather than the surgical side of things. It’s nice to be away from that environment now and still be able to fulfil my passion of providing not only animal care, but to give people peace of mind while leaving their furbabies on holidays.
I set up the cattery in 2018 while still working as a veterinary nurse, and went full-time in November 2021. Usually I have about 15 or so animals at a time, but occasionally this can go as high as 40 at peak times like Christmas, summer and Easter holidays. Christmas would be busier than summer to be honest, we get a good few in for a two-week spell. A lot of people who visit family in other counties or foreign families go back home for Christmas.
Most days consist of feeding, cleaning litter trays and administering medication – I get a lot of diabetic cats who need insulin injections twice a day. You always have to be on your guard for cat’s symptoms if they’re feeling unwell.
Most days consist of providing general care and lots of cleaning and disinfecting of animal housing is so important between guests. Administering medication, playtime, cuddles and photographs for sending updates to owners are also a big part of my day-to-day work.
Of course, there’s plenty of play time. I let some of the younger kittens play together with owners’ consent but adult cats don’t mix well and get to play separately. Most like to birdwatch after breakfast for a little while – I call it Cat TV. And they’re very prone to an afternoon nap afterwards.
The cats stay in sheltered pods consisting of a 3ft by 3ft insulated and heated house with an 8ft run outside. Cats are quite claustrophobic and can get a bit fear-aggressive and unsociable when they’re in a confined spot, because they don’t have the space to move away if they’re scared, so this is why it’s crucial to have appropriate size pods for them. Obviously it’s more confined than what they have at home, but they do settle very quickly.
It’s a lot easier to keep a dog in than a cat, because they’re not going to jump out the window. Cats are very different in the sense that if you let them out, it rarely comes back when it’s called. If it gets a fright, it can run and hide for up to four days; that’s partly why people don’t like bringing them on holidays.
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Aside from the visiting pets, I have two horses, a donkey, four pet sheep, two dogs and a cat. This life is a full-time commitment, seven days a week, but I wouldn’t do anything else. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who gets to work her dream job. When you love what you do you never work a day in your life. Animals are the best therapy there is and I’m so lucky to be surrounded by them each day.
Although I rarely get to go on holidays myself, I do it for the love of the animals, especially as I could recall the cat’s name quicker than the owner’s! – In conversation with Conor Capplis